By Joel Bates
It wasn’t the rush of crashing down the class-three rapid or the thrill and concentrated effort of spinning three-sixties in a turbulent, sticky wave that rose to the top of my latest trip to the annual Discovery Ministries Whitewater Clinic. This year I tried something totally new and daring. I invited my 13-year-old daughter to learn to paddle whitewater, and in the end, I was the one who learned yet another lesson…a lesson about trust.
When I asked Emma if she would like to go to the St. Francis River for the clinic, she paused and, after momentary consideration, simply said, “Not really.” In the words of one of my hillbilly friends, “That dog don’t hunt.” This was not the spirit of adventure that I had been trying to instill in her all these years. In truth, I understood. Like me, she can be a bit hesitant, fearful of the risks and the unknown. However, I prodded further, “Would you go if you were in a tandem boat with me?” Another long pause was followed by, “I….guess.” That’s the spirit! That was all I needed to hear. It was settled then.
When we have first-timers show up to the clinic, we run them through a crash course on paddling skills and boat control, river reading and self-rescue, and then we put them trembling and scared into one of our old, ramshackle whitewater canoes. We coax them down the river and over the rapids, working with them, honing their skills, coaching them through, and dragging them out after they take the inevitable spill.
For my 13-year-old princess, I thought something a bit more genteel was required. Even though she sat through the customary, land-based trainings, I would be with her as we challenged the river. She could trust me! It was just another walk in the park on a familiar river that had become more or less easy for me. For Emma, it was a journey into the unknown, down a river that had produced many hair-raising stories around our dinner table. This river had become more than just a sparkling river with rapids; it loomed as a legendary villain of epic proportions. She was trembling a little as we climbed into the boat.
She was well versed in paddling techniques from our many family canoe outings on the friendly Jack’s Fork back home, so when we hit the first whitecaps and I said, “Paddle forward…now cross-draw!.... Paddle, paddle!… Stop!” She responded quickly, confidently, and effectively. It would to be a great day!
We did have a good experience on the river that day, and then the ultimate challenge beckoned as the day drew to a close. We approached a great play-wave that I had spent many hours surfing on previous trips. Others in our party were proving their prowess on the wave and a playful yearning grew, filling my muscles with adrenaline. Yes! it was time to introduce Emma to one of the finer points of whitewater play-boating—also known as the rodeo. It’s probably a good thing she was in the front of the canoe so she couldn’t see me foaming at the mouth to get out there and play.
“Come on, Emma; lets surf this barge!” I said. She did not respond, but I couldn’t let her lack of enthusiasm spoil my fun. I paddled us onto the bouncing wave, and it sucked the front end of our boat right down until the roaring water was pouring over the gunwales. The wave began to turn us into a side surf. “Right knee! Right knee!” I yelled over the roaring river. Too late…before we were able to right the boat, the water pushed against our upstream hull. Suddenly we were counting fish. We came up sputtering, but smiling as we reached for the throw rope our fellow paddlers were offering.
Back on shore, we dumped water out of our boat and cheered on our friends as they braved the wave. After watching a number of paddlers surf with mixed success, I leaned over to Emma, “Wanna go again?” I asked. “Not really,” she mumbled with trembling voice. “But will you try it with me one more time?” I wheedled, using my disarming, toothy grin and wanting her to trust me. “I guess,” she said flatly.
Soon we were at the front of the line with our bow pointed toward the wave, our paddles in the water, and our bodies braced for the shock of the swift water colliding against our boat. Like before, we were in deep with the water pouring over and moving into a side surf. “Right knee,” I instructed. Then moving from a side surf to a back surf, I could feel the hydraulics’ greedy fingers pulling our stern in deeper. “Left knee! Left knee!” I commanded. We were drifting now all the way around in the wave completing a 360-degree spin. Then as abruptly as we had entered the wave, it released us and we bobbed down the current. “We did it!” I exclaimed. She turned with a broad smile on her face, and we clapped our paddles together in a salute to our success.
A few days later, I read in the book of Hebrews about how Jesus has gone through every temptation that is common to man so He can sympathize with our trials. In other words, He has been down the river. More than that, He conquered the river! He daily calls us to a life of trust in Him, but as He calls, He is often in the midst of a raging storm, smiling at us. He beckons us to come follow Him, but we see waves that will blow and toss us. He invites us on a journey that is so dangerous and down-right impossible that we simply cannot do it without him. We know it and He knows it, but still He sits there in the canoe, inviting us to ride over the waterfall with Him and all with a big grin on His face. Doesn’t He know that that water could kill us? Yes, I believe He does.
Oh, we think we have everything under control, but what we don’t always realize is that though going our own way seems safe, it is a way that actually leads to death. Jesus knows the outcome! And, it is in this very scary way of trusting in the Savior that we really live. True life is not what you think. True life will kill you; in fact, it already did. Galatians 2:20 tells us that when we confessed Jesus as Lord and trusted Him, we were crucified with Christ. We no longer live, but Christ lives in us! This trust allows us to step into the perceived peril and grow to really live. So…do you want to go boating?
Come along side us as we journey in and out of the wilderness, discovering our Creator in creation.